Hamilton Township, New Jersey –While autumn is largely marked by the changing of colors in the leaves, it is also a time of cooler weather, making it a perfect soup season.
“Fall is a great time to get back in the groove of cooking soup, after taking time off throughout the summer,” says John Kuropatwa, executive chef of Spigola Ristorante, in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. “There are many great soup ingredients that are in season right now, making them more affordable, accessible, and fresher-tasting.”
Vegetables that are typically in season during the fall include a variety of squash, mushrooms, pumpkin, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, and leeks. Any of these can make the base for a great-tasting autumn soup that can be served alongside a meal or, paired with a good, crusty bread, can be a meal on its own. Some popular soups for this time of year include potato, mushroom, pasta fagioli, onion, and butternut squash.
“The great thing about soup is that there is no right or wrong. You can pretty much use whatever you have on hand to make it, and it will still taste like you put a lot of thought into it,” adds Kuropatwa. “Having low-fat soup with your meals, or as your meal, a couple of nights per week is a great way to help fill you and warm you up while also getting more vegetables into your diet.”
Fall also brings pumpkins back to the forefront. Pumpkins –members of the gourd family, along with watermelon and squash – are an American pastime each fall. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins were produced in this country in 2008, at a value of around $141 million. While most families plan on getting a pumpkin this season, they are not always sure how to select a good one, or what to do once they have it home.
“Pumpkins are a sign that we are heading into the holiday season,” says Kuropatwa. “But what is so exciting is that they provide so many opportunities to create great dishes that we don’t have year-round. It’s really a special time of year.”
If you are in the market for a pumpkin, this season, keep the following shopping, usage and disposal tips in mind:
Selecting. To pick a good pumpkin, opt for one that is mature, feels firm, and has a rich orange color. Avoid ones that have scars and cracks. You can check the firmness by pushing on it with your fingernail. If it is mature, it should not scratch with the pressure.
Storing. Once you get the pumpkin home, you can store it for at least a month in a cool, dry place. If you want it to keep longer, you can take the pumpkin flesh out of its skin; it can then be frozen, dried or canned.
Using. There are a variety of uses for pumpkins. Many people opt to carve them into jack-o-lanterns. Others may decide to cook with them, which is a good option because they are loaded with antioxidants, beta-carotene, and vitamin A. They also provide fiber, potassium, and calcium. Pumpkins can be baked whole in the oven (set at 325 degrees, cooking time varies by size). Just be sure to poke holes in it first and then, when it’s finished, remove the skin, seeds and membrane.
The seeds can be roasted in the oven by tossing with some oil and laying a single layer on a baking sheet for about 12 to 15 minutes at 250 degrees. Pumpkin can also be used to make pies, pancakes, muffins, soups, and variety of other tasty recipes. A quick online search can net a wide array of pumpkin recipes. If you want to carve your pumpkin but still get some nutritional benefits, either carve it and toast the seeds, or opt to decorate it with non-toxic paint so you can still bake it afterward.
Discarding. If you go the route of creating a jack-o-lantern, this season, you may be wondering what to do with it once the festivities have moved on. Composting it makes a great option if you or someone you know has a garden. You can also check into donating it to local animal farms, or see if your city is collecting them for recycling purposes.
“No autumn would be complete without the great pumpkin,” Kuropatwa says. “They are so versatile and fun to work with. Even the kids can get in on selecting and using them. It’s truly a family activity.”
With the arrival of the fall season, give this soup a try.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND APPLE SOUP
6 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 pounds apples, peeled and cored, plus 1 additional apple
3 to 4 quarts chicken stock, divided
1/2 cup apple juice or cider
1 1/2 cups butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
Heat oven to 400°F. Cut squash in half. On large baking sheet, place halves, cut side up. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle each half with 1 tablespoon oil.
In separate baking pan, place apples and 2 cups chicken stock. Bake, along with squash, until knife easily cuts through flesh (about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size). Apples will most likely be done before squash.
Let cooked apples and squash cool. While cooling, peel and core additional apple, and dice fine. Reserve for garnish.
When apples and squash are cool enough to handle, cut or scoop squash from rind, and place into bowl of food processor or blender. Peel skins from apples and cut into quarters. Add apples and 2 quarts chicken stock to squash, and puree until smooth – working in batches, if necessary.
Place puree in large pot. Over medium heat, add apple juice, butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Over medium heat, bring soup to a simmer, and cook 20 minutes, thinning with additional stock, if desired. Add cream, and continue to cook until just heated through. Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved diced apple.
For a great pumpkin dish, try this recipe.
PUMPKIN GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER SAUCE
1 pumpkin, 3 pounds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 large egg
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 1/2 sticks butter
12 sage leaves
Heat oven to 400°F.
Cut pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. On large baking sheet, place halves, cut side up, and drizzle each half with 1 tablespoon oil. Place in oven and roast until knife easily cuts through flesh of pumpkin, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let pumpkin cool.
When cool enough to handle, scrape flesh from skin into bowl of food processor. Puree pumpkin into thick paste. Place 1 1/2 cups puree into saucepan along with salt and nutmeg.
Cook puree over medium heat until most of the water in puree has evaporated and pumpkin appears dry. Gradually add 1 cup flour, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until mixture forms a ball (5 to 10 minutes). Remove pan from heat.
In small bowl, beat egg with fork until scrambled, and add to pumpkin mixture, along with 1 3/4 cups cheese. Mix to combine. Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and knead a few times and form into ball. Cover dough with bowl and allow to rest for about 30 minutes.
After dough has rested, knead it, adding more flour if necessary, until dough feels smooth and not too sticky. Form a ball and cut dough into 4-ounce pieces. Keeping remaining dough covered under bowl, roll one piece into a 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick rope, dusting board with additional flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut rope into 1-inch-long pieces, using knife dipped in flour.
Dust baking sheet with small amount of flour, and gently place cut gnocchi on sheet in a single layer. Set aside until ready to cook. Alternately, gnocchi can be refrigerated (covered) for up to a day, or frozen on the sheet. If freezing, after gnocchi have hardened (about 2 hours), they should be loosened from the tray using a metal spatula and placed in a sealable plastic bag. They can then be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
For the sauce, in large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add sage; cook for 2 minutes until butter starts to brown. Set aside.
On stove, place 4-quart pot of water. Add salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Once water has come to a boil, add 1/4 of gnocchi and cook until tender (2 to 3 minutes). Using slotted spoon, remove cooked gnocchi from pot, and place into skillet with sauce. Repeat until remaining gnocchi are cooked.
When finished, quickly sauté gnocchi in sauce for 1 to 2 minutes over medium-high heat, tossing to coat gnocchi with sauce. Remove from heat, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese, and serve.
Spigola Ristorante is a modern Italian restaurant based in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. The restaurant features a full menu of traditional and modern Italian cuisine, as well as an extensive wine list and bar. The establishment also offers weekly live entertainment, events, specials and daily happy hour, catering services and private party facilities. To learn more, visit the website.